Cargo Theft: Texas Penal Code §31.18

Texas Criminal Law

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The Texas Cargo Theft law gives police the right to arrest you if they believe you stole commercial freight or trafficked in stolen commercial freight.

The statute defines cargo to include all kinds of commercial freight. It is also illegal to steal cargo (or anything else) under the Texas Theft law, but the penalties under the Cargo Theft law are more severe.

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The Texas legislature codified this criminal offense in Texas Penal Code Section 31.18. The law was not amended in 2023. However, the law was most recently amended in 2017 when the legislature swapped the words “Subsection (b)(1)” for “Subdivision (1),” an entirely nonsubstantial update.

The Penal Code classifies the Texas Cargo Theft law under Title 7 “Offenses Against Property,” Chapter 31 “Theft.” Learn more about the Texas offense of Cargo Theft below.

What is the current Texas law about Cargo Theft?

The current Texas law defines the offense of Cargo Theft in Penal Code Section §31.18 as follows:[1]

(b) A person commits an offense if the person:

(1) knowingly or intentionally conducts, promotes, or facilitates an activity in which the person receives, possesses, conceals, stores, barters, sells, abandons, or disposes of:

(A) stolen cargo; or

(B) cargo explicitly represented to the person as being stolen cargo; or

(2) is employed as a driver lawfully contracted to transport a specific cargo by vehicle from a known point of origin to a known point of destination and, with the intent to conduct, promote, or facilitate an activity described by Subdivision (1), knowingly or intentionally:

(A) fails to deliver the entire cargo to the known point of destination as contracted; or

(B) causes the seal to be broken on the vehicle or on an intermodal container containing any part of the cargo.

What is the definition of cargo under Texas law?

Cargo includes the commercial shipment of freight moving in commerce, including goods at any point between the point of origin and the final point of destination.[2]

How can I be charged with a Cargo Theft offense in Texas?

You can be charged with Cargo Theft in Texas if the state’s attorneys believe that each of the elements of 31.18(b) as described in the section above have been met.

What is the statute of limitation for Cargo Theft in Texas?

Cargo Theft offenses have a three-year limitations period.[3]

What is the penalty for a Texas Cargo Theft offense?

If the total value of the cargo involved is $1,500 or more but less than $10,000 then a conviction for Cargo Theft in Texas is punished as a State Jail Felony,[4] with a maximum possible fine under Texas state law of up to $10,000 and jail time of up to 2 years.

If the total value of the cargo involved is $10,000 or more but less than $100,000 then a conviction for Cargo Theft in Texas is punished as a Felony of the Third Degree,[5] with a maximum possible fine under Texas state law of up to $10,000 and prison time of up to 10 years.

If the total value of the cargo involved is $100,000 or more but less than $200,000 then a conviction for Cargo Theft in Texas is punished as a Felony of the Second Degree,[6] with a maximum possible fine under Texas state law of up to $10,000 and prison time of up to 20 years.

If the total value of the cargo involved is $200,000 then a conviction for Cargo Theft in Texas is punished as a Felony of the First Degree,[7] with a maximum possible fine under Texas state law of up to $10,000 and up to life in prison. Note that the fine amount does not include a restitution penalty. Learn about the differences between grades of felonies and misdemeanors here.

Can you get probation for Cargo Theft in Texas?

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows both judges and juries to grant probation for Cargo Theft, and judges are also allowed to accept deferred adjudication plea deals.[8]

Note, however, that no matter the offense, neither judges nor juries may recommend community supervision for any suspended sentence of over 10 years.[9] Also, judges may not grant community supervision after a conviction if (1) the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon during the commission of the felony or immediate flight thereafter and (2) the defendant used or exhibited the deadly weapon himself or was a party to the offense and knew that a deadly weapon would be used or exhibited.[10]

What level of crime is Cargo Theft in Texas?

The Penal Code classification of the punishment for Cargo Theft ranges from a state jail felony to a first degree felony, depending on the value of the stolen cargo and other circumstances.

Learn more about the penalty range for this offense in the section above.

Can a Texas Cargo Theft offense be reduced?

Yes, a Cargo Theft charge can be reduced. The most likely reduction would be to the base Theft offense.


^1. Texas Penal Code §31.18. This law is current as of the 88th Legislature Regular Session.^2. Texas Penal Code §31.18(a)(1)^3. See Code of Criminal Procedure 12.01(9)^4. Texas Penal Code §31.18(c)(1)^5. Texas Penal Code §31.18(c)(2)^6. Texas Penal Code §31.18(c)(3)^7. Texas Penal Code §31.18(c)(4)^8. See Chapter 42, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 42A.054, Art. 42A.056, Art. 42A.102 .^9. Art. 42A.053(c), Texas Code of Criminal Procedure^10. Art. 42A.054(b), Texas Code of Criminal Procedure

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